I’m listening to Sissy Spacek narrate To Kill A Mockingbird.  If you haven’t read it since high school, grab a copy and start again tonight. The languorous southern summer days mix with a searing poignancy; a history of a particular moment in time unfolds in a novel so riveting, so achingly universal, it leaves me a bit breathless.

I thought I knew the book but I’m discovering it all over again. And what a discovery. Audio books have become a fixture in my life of late—and not because these 50-year-old eyes are giving out.  After years of reading to my children, I enjoy being read to.  Books on CD (I know, even that sounds like quaint technology these days) have nearly doubled my intake of the “printed” word.  I no longer gripe in traffic jams or fret about an extra trip to the grocery store. I leave behind all manner of chaos in the house, close my driver’s door and pick up where I left off. I am, literally, transported. I keep a book log and since I began a couple years ago, I’ve listened to dozens upon dozens of books, plays, essays and lectures.

The local library is my go-to source and has become an intimate friend again. I’m promiscuous – I traipse about our county diving into the stacks of a half dozen local branches. I know the drill in each one and I’m like a hound dog on the trail of his prey when I’m searching for a particular title. I’m no nonsense; I don’t tend to linger. But if I did and when I do, it’s nothing short of a revelation. I am surprised and delighted by the sheer number and variety of folks who are using the library at all hours of the day–moms sprawl in the children’s section with their pre-schoolers; an older man naps in a comfortable chair; all ages are working at computers–every station filled; several are engaged in conversation with the reference librarian; one or two intriguing types are writing what I take to be the next great American novel; daily newspapers are perused; there are tables for tots, tables reserved for teens (from 3-6 p.m.–how nice is that?); there are community bulletin boards chock-a-block with announcements – a book club, a volunteer organization, a book sale next Saturday.

The brick and mortar library is alive and well in the 21st century, a vital community resource in a country where community can be hard to come by. At one local branch, I look up at Andrew Carnegie’s name carved in stone above the entrance to a particularly musty but endearing interior and I think, the man had it right. Libraries are democracy in action.

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